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Torture vs Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment -- Is the Distinction Real or Apparent?, by Metin Basoglu, MD, PhD et al.,

Arch Gen Psychiatry Vol. 64, pp.277-284, March 2007

Reviewed by John E. Dannenberg

Motivated by recent reports of U.S. human rights abuses in military prisons, the three psychiatrist authors studied ill treatment during captivity, including psychological manipulations, humiliating treatment and forced stress situations, and upon finding them indistinguishable from torture as to associated distress and uncontrollability, recommended prohibition of such practices by international law.

The authors set out to distinguish between torture and various other forms of ill treatment during captivity as to their relative psychological impact. They studied 279 survivors of war trauma from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. The target group was selected evenly from combat veterans, torture survivors, refugees, displaced people and NATO bombing victims. The measure tools used were the DSM-IV [standard psychiatric evaluation manual] scales for post-traumatic stress disorder and war/torture survivors. The principal results were that the effects of psychological manipulations, humiliating treatment, exposure to aversive environmental conditions and forced stress positions showed much the same results observed with torture victims.

The study defined the abusive prison treatment as blindfolding, hooding, forced nudity, isolation, forced standing, rope bondage, deprivation (e.g., sleep, light, water, food or medical care), and treatment designed to create fear, terror or helplessness. By comparison, it defined torture as acts inflicting severe mental pain or suffering and prolonged mental harm. Examples here included Palestinian hanging (i.e., by wrists bound behind back), suffocation, electric shock, beating of the soles of the feet, stretching, beating, hanging by hands or feet, needles under finger and toe nails, cupped hand beating of ears, and pulling by hair.

In general, the study found that the severity of psychological damage was proportional to the amount of physical pain one was subjected to. Since physical torture is prohibited by the Geneva Convention, but ?interrogation? is not, the question was whether so-called ?interrogation techniques? crossed the boundary of prohibited torturous acts. A total of 21 psychiatrists participated in the study, conducting interviews over a two-year period.

An important result was that the long term effects of physical torture and of other psychological mistreatment were the same. This lead to the recommendation that since such long term damage from torture has long been prohibited by international convention, the equally-harmful practices of psychological ?interrogation? mistreatment should likewise be banned.

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